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Tag: Holy Spirit

Questions: Bruce, What Was Your View of “God”?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Evan asked:

My first question is, what is God to you? Also, when you were actively involved in the church, what, how, and where did you see God as? To give some examples, is God a bearded man in the sky watching us (as silly as that sounds)? Is he Invisible, Risen? Lively or Unlively? What about when praying to him (as in Jesus)? Do you think he was listening to your words?

Evan is not a Christian, so he asks these questions from the perspective of an unbeliever trying to understand how Christians view and understand God. There is no singular Christian view/understanding of God, so it is impossible to define God from a singular perspective. Put a hundred Christians in a room and have them answer Evan’s questions, and you will end up with dozens of answers. Much like Jesus, “God” is a product of human imagination and experience. Simply put, God is whoever/whatever you want him/her/it to be. What follows, then, is how I viewed God as an Evangelical Christian and pastor. My past view of God is normative within Evangelicalism, but certainly not the only view found within the Evangelical tent.

Evan’s first question is in the present tense, so let me briefly answer it before answering the “what is God to you” in the past tense. I am an atheist, so I don’t believe in the existence of deities. I am persuaded that God is a human construct, the byproduct of a pre-science world. Humans looked at the universe and tried to explain what they saw. Enter Gods. Science, of course, has now answered many of the questions that were once answered with “God.” As science continues to answer more and more questions about our universe, God becomes irrelevant. Of course, the concept of “God” is deeply ingrained in human thinking, so ridding our world of deities is not easy.

As an Evangelical Christian, I believed God was eternal and transcendent; that God was three persons in one (the Trinity): God, the father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. God was all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. Simply put, God was everywhere. There was no place I could go to escape the presence of God.

God was a personal deity. Jesus died on a Roman cross for my sins (substitutionary atonement) and resurrected from the dead three days later. By putting my faith and trust in Jesus, I believed he forgave my past/present/future sins, and I would go to Heaven after I died. The moment I was “saved.” the Holy Spirit moved into my “heart” and became my teacher and guide.

I viewed God as a spiritual presence in my life and the world. Through the Bible and prayer, God “spoke” to me — not audibly per se. Feeling and knowing the presence of God is hard to explain. Religious indoctrination and conditioning led me to believe God was an ever-present reality in my life. There was no escaping God, even when I was sinning. When I prayed, I thought I was directly talking to God. At times. I had profound experiences when praying, reading the Bible, or preaching. Just as God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, I believe God walked with me too.

This is a dumbed-down (no offense to Evan) version of how I viewed and experienced God as an Evangelical Christian. I could have written a 10,000-word treatise on the Trinitarian God, complete with a plethora of Bible references. However, doing so would likely not give Evan the answers he is seeking.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

No Books Needed: I Just Read the Bible

john ruskin bible

One Sunday twenty years ago, several young families walked into the door of the church just before the start of the evening service. We rarely had visitors on Sunday evening, so their attendance was rather a surprise. After the service was over, I engaged one of the visitors, a young husband, in a bit of get-to-know-you banter. The man had little interest in chit-chat, immediately asking me several pointed theological questions. I did my best to answer the man’s questions, but I could tell that he didn’t approve of my answers.

Always the polite pastor, I told the disapproving man that I had a book that might prove helpful in answering his questions. The man curtly replied, I am not interested in reading a book. I just read the Bible and that is all I need. And with that, he said good night and his family walked out the door never to return.

Sadly, this kind of thinking is quite common in Evangelical churches, even among pastors. I know of one pastor who is proud of the fact that his study library consists of only a handful of books. In his mind, without any proper theological training, he is quite capable of properly interpreting the Bible. This pastor believes God, through the inner workings of the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, teaches him everything he needs to know. In other words, he is an Evangelical version of the Pope. God speaks to him directly as he reads and studies the Bible. However, when church members profess the same, and those members’ interpretations of the Bible differ with his, why they are deemed to be wrong. If it is the Holy Spirit who teaches and guides Evangelicals, wouldn’t he be teaching each Christian the same thing? Yet, Evangelical churches are awash in competing theological beliefs, with each adherent believing that his interpretations are the right ones.

Years ago, I attended a preacher’s meeting (a monthly gathering of pastors for food, fellowship, and preaching) in Lancaster, Ohio. One of the speakers, a rather obese man, even by fat-man Bruce Gerencser standards, fashioned himself to be what he called a “Biblical” preacher. His sermon had no form or structure. He would read a verse, stop, and then say what God was “leading” him to say. As with the two previous illustrations, this preacher thought his personal interpretations of the Bible were the equivalent of God’s.

Many Evangelical pastors love to hide behind flowery theological sayings which are meant to convey the thought that their sermons are straight from God’s Office of Sermon Distribution. The truth is, their sermons are just their opinions of what the Bible says. That they refuse to read any other books but the Bible (and often read only one translation of the Bible) actually increases the likelihood that their interpretation is errant and fallible. These Bible-only people have, in effect, turned themselves into the final authorities on what God has said.

If I were still a Christian and looking for a church to attend, the first thing I would do is take a look at the pastor’s library. You can tell a lot about a man by the books he reads. If looking at a pastor’s library reveals a paucity of commentaries and language aids, you can be sure that man is not fit to teach others a religious text that is, by all accounts, a complex, difficult text to interpret and understand. Only in Evangelicalism is ignorance praised as a virtue. This thinking will, in the end, prove to be the death of Evangelicalism.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Seven Things Evangelicals Say to Atheists and Why They Shouldn’t Say Them

jesus loves atheists

Twelve years ago, I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. While I still had a modicum of belief in the existence of a God, I was finished with organized, institutional Christianity. Once free of the church, it was not long before I slid to the bottom of the slippery slope of unbelief. Since then, numerous Evangelicals have attempted to win me back to Jesus or restore me to good standing with the church. Try as they might, I remain an unrepentant atheist — an apostate and enemy of Christianity. Some apologists have concluded that I have committed the unpardonable sin or that God has given me over to a reprobate mind.

What follows is a list of seven things that Evangelicals have said to me over the years in their attempts to get me to renew my membership with Club Jesus®. I have no doubt that every Evangelical-turned-atheist has heard the same things.

I’ll Pray for You

I’ll pray for you is the number one statement Evangelicals make to those who have left the faith. According to Evangelicals, prayer can fix any problem, including turning atheists into believers. Here’s the problem with this kind of thinking: prayer doesn’t work. For many former Evangelicals, unanswered prayer is one of the reasons they deconverted.

During the deconversion process, I made a careful accounting of past prayers and their answers. I specifically focused on answered big-need prayers. In every case, I was able to trace the affirmative answer back to human instrumentality. While I certainly had several I can’t explain it moments, these were not enough to lead me to believe that the Christian God answered prayer.

And here’s the thing, I don’t know of one Evangelical-turned-atheist who has ever returned to Evangelicalism. Despite all the prayers, those who leave don’t return. Wouldn’t it be a big boost for Evangelical stock if God reached down and saved Bruce Gerencser, the atheist preacher? Imagine what a splash it would make if someone such as I returned to the faith. But it doesn’t happen. Why is that?

For many former Evangelicals, we deconverted because we learned that the Evangelical church is built on a faulty foundation: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. Once people realize and accept that the Bible is not what Evangelicals say it is, they are then free to examine more carefully the central claims of Christianity. In my case, I found that Evangelical beliefs could not withstand intellectual scrutiny.

No matter what I say, Evangelicals are going to continue to pray for me. Rarely does a week go by without several Evangelicals letting me know that they are storming the throne room of God on my behalf (or praying God will kill me). Fine, by all means, pray. But there is no need to let me know that you are doing so. Surely God is able to hear and answer your prayer without me knowing about it.

Have You Ever Heard the Gospel?

The short, snarky answer is this: of course not! I spent 50 years in the Christian church and pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years, yet I never heard the gospel one time. Amazing, isn’t it? When Evangelicals take this approach with me, what they really want to know is whether I have heard their version of the gospel. You see, there is no such thing as THE Evangelical gospel. Evangelicals incessantly fight over whose gospel is true. Calvinists and Arminians are fighting a seven-century war over which group has the faith once delivered to the saints. The Bible says, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, yet Christians have spent 21 centuries proving God a liar. The Bible tells us that Christians will be known for their unity and love, yet these beliefs have been turned on their head by sectarians who believe that the only unity and love possible is with people who are part of their exclusive club.

When Christians ever figure out what the gospel is, I hope they will let me know. Until then, I plan to pop some popcorn and watch the comedy known as the internecine wars of Christianity. As one commenter on Facebook said, and I paraphrase:  Evangelicals think that their battles over right doctrine are some sort of intellectual pursuit. They are not. From the outside, all the wrangling over doctrinal minutia looks a lot like toddlers fighting over toys.

God Laid You on My Heart

Several years ago, a former long-time friend and colleague in the ministry contacted me, out of the blue, on Facebook, and told me what he thought of my deconversion and its effect on my family. Needless to say, his words were not kind, and after we traded a couple of emails he stopped writing.

Now my former friend is back. Why? God laid me on his heart. This time, he decided to approach me in a kinder, more respectful way. We traded emails that talked about our families and that was the end of that. While this man was, at one time, my closest friend, we no longer have anything in common. The elephant in the room will always be my atheism and intellectual assault on Evangelical Christianity. And I get it, I really do. It is hard to maintain a friendship with someone who thinks your beliefs are intellectual rubbish.

Over the years, numerous former church members and ministerial colleagues have contacted me because they believed God had laid Bruce Gerencser on their hearts. Instead of wanting to catch up or talk about old times, they thought God has a personal mission for them: contact Bruce Gerencser. In most cases, their message from God is preceded by them doing a web search for my name. In other words, they wondered what I was up to, so they fired up their browser, loaded Google, typed in my name, and were then presented with pages of links for Bruce Gerencser (I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world). Was it God who was leading them to do the search, or was it curiosity, wondering what Bruce is up to these days?

As an atheist, I don’t think God exists, so Evangelicals telling me that God laid Bruce Gerencser on their hearts has no effect on me. Sometimes, I want to ask Evangelicals how they KNOW God talked to them about me, but I already know all the stock answers for such a question. Evangelicals know what they know, and all the reason in the world won’t change their mind.

God is Trying to Get Your Attention

Evangelicals believe that their God, as owner of everything, is personally and intimately involved in his creation. Despite evidence to the contrary, Evangelicals believe that God is an everyday, real presence, not only in their lives, but the lives of every person, saved or lost. When Evangelicals read my story, they often focus on the health problems I have. See, Evangelicals say, God is afflicting you so he can get your attention. If I really believed this to be true, I would immediately become an Evangelical again. I would be quite willing to put serious time in at Club Jesus® if it meant that my pain and suffering would go away. (This is sarcasm, by the way, as you shall see in a moment.)

However, when I take a careful look at the “health” of Evangelicals, I see that they are every bit as “afflicted” as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Well, the Evangelical says, God uses sickness to test, try, or punish Christians. Far more important than bodily health is spiritual health. Sure . . .

Each and every day is a struggle for me. I’ve detailed this many times over the years, so I won’t bore you with the details again. If I thought that the unrelenting pain I suffer is God’s doing, I highly doubt knowing this would turn me into a worshiper of Jesus. What kind of God hurts people so they will love and worship him? In the real world, such abusers are considered criminals, the scum of the earth. Yet, when God abuses people it is because he loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. No thanks! I have no interest in worshiping such a God. I would rather burn in Hell than worship a God who spends his days inflicting pain, suffering, disease, and death on not only humans, but all living things.

You’ll Go to Hell if You Don’t Accept Jesus

The more Fundamentalist the Evangelicals, the more likely they are to tell atheists and unbelievers that the latter will end up in Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. In other words, God is saying that if people don’t accept his foreordained way of salvation, he plans to torture them eternally in a pit of fire and brimstone. In what other setting does such an approach work? Hello, I am your local Kirby Sweeper salesman. If you don’t buy a sweeper from me, I will burn your house to the ground. Such a psychopath would quickly be arrested and locked up. Yet, God, who is every bit as psychopathic as the Kirby salesman, is given a pass.

When Evangelicals try the Hell approach, I quickly tell them that I don’t believe in the existence of Hell; that the only hell is that which humans inflict on one another. Sometimes, toying with them, I will ask them: WHERE is Hell? No answer is forthcoming. Most of the time, I let Evangelicals know that threatening me with Hell will not work. I am immune to being threatened into anything. I spent most of my preaching career threatening people, warning them of the suddenness of death and the certainty of Hell. Over the years, hundreds of people responded to my threats, embracing the wonderful, loving, psychopathic God of Christianity. I now know that such an approach psychologically harms people. Constantly being warned about impending eternal judgment often leaves deep and lasting emotional scars. Consider me scarred.

I Know the Holy Spirit is Speaking to You

Some Evangelicals, those who are more liberal-minded and have kind hearts, read a few of my blog posts and then “discern” that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me. Such people often have a great affinity for my critiques of Evangelicalism. In fact, some of them, not paying attention to the fact that I am an atheist, think I am a member of their club. I have received numerous emails from “fellow” brothers and sisters in Lord. When I respond and let them know that I am an atheist, they often can’t believe that I am a child of Satan. How could the Devil’s spawn ever write the way Bruce does? they think to themselves.

I happen to be quite conversant in all things Evangelical. Even though I haven’t pastored a church in over 17 years, I still follow the machinations of Evangelicalism quite closely. It is a subject that interests me, and I suspect this interest shows in my writing. However, my pastime should not in any way be confused with the Holy Spirit speaking to me.

Since I don’t believe in God, telling me that the third part of the Trinity is speaking to me has no value. First, how can anyone possibly KNOW that the Holy Spirit is carrying on a conversation with me in my head? Isn’t such a thing beyond the purview of even the sharpest of God’s discerners? Telling me that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me is akin to telling me that aliens from a far-away galaxy are telepathically communicating with me. The only voices in my head are mine.

Do You Want Your Children or Grandchildren to Grow Up Without Knowing God and Having No Morals?

Ah yes, the classic do it for the kids line of thinking. Here’s the thing: now that I am 63 years old, I have had six decades to contemplate belief in God and its effect on the human race. That’s a long time. I have spent most of my life drinking deeply at the trough of Christianity. I now know that the water in the trough was a mirage. I thought the healing waters of the Christian God imparted morality and ethics to all who would drink, but these days I’ve come to see that, while religion can play part in dispensing morality and ethics, it often, thanks to rigid dogma, proves to be an impediment to moral and ethical development.

Evangelicals, in particular, think that morality and ethics ONLY come from the Christian God. No matter how many studies and arguments prove that such a claim is not true, Evangelicals continue to hang on to the belief that their God and the Bible are the sole sources of morality. This kind of thinking has turned into what is commonly called the culture war. Evangelicals demand that everyone live according to their moral code. They even go as far as using the government to force others to live by their peculiar interpretations of the Bible. If only the Ten Commandments were taught in school, America would be great again, Evangelicals say. However, when unbelievers take a close look at how Evangelicals live, they quickly find out that God’s chosen ones don’t practice what they preach. If the Evangelicals are anything, they are hypocrites.

My six children are all grown. All of them have made up their own minds about God. None of them worships the Evangelical God. For the most part, my children are indifferent towards religion, ALL religion. My thirteen grandchildren? I hope they never see the inside of an Evangelical church, apart from funerals and weddings. I think Evangelical belief often causes psychological harm. In some cases, such beliefs can lead to abuse or turn people into abusers. Why would I ever want my grandchildren within a light-year of an Evangelical church?

If I could script the lives of my grandchildren (and I can’t) I would love for them to take a World Religion class. I know that exposing them to other religions besides Christianity will dampen or destroy any affinity they might have for Evangelicalism. Exposure to knowledge is a sure cure for Fundamentalism. The more my grandchildren learn about religion (and humanism and atheism), the less likely they are to follow down the same pernicious path Nana and Grandpa followed decades ago. If they still decide to embrace some sort of religion, I hope they will embrace practices that affirm their self-worth and cause them to love others. Such values cannot be found in Evangelical churches because they are always secondary to right belief and rigid obedience.

As I watch my grandchildren grow up, I can’t help but see how different they are from their parents (and this is due to their parents allowing them wander down paths they themselves were never allowed to go). I revel in their thirst for knowledge, knowing that satisfying this thirst will inoculate them from being infected by the mind-killing disease of religious Fundamentalism. Perhaps in their generation the curse will finally be broken. While Polly’s Fundamentalist mom laments what our unbelief is doing to our children and grandchildren, I see things differently. I now know that intellectual and personal freedom leads to lives filled with meaning and purpose. Most of all, I want those who bear my name to live lives filled with happiness. Shouldn’t that be our hope for everyone?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists Need the Holy Spirit to Understand the Bible

the bible says

Why do some people [Bruce Gerencser] apostatize, who at one time professed faith in Jesus Christ, even those who were pastors, ended up leaving Jesus Christ? These false converts even believed that they had the Holy Spirit before they fell away from the faith.

An apostate [Bruce Gerencser] shows us that they never understood the Holy Scriptures because to understand the Bible, they had to have the Holy Spirit living inside of them in the first place. [According to Evangelical orthodoxy, only Christians have the Holy Spirit living inside of them. Yet, Spaniard VIII says unbelievers must have the Holy Spirit inside of them to understand the Bible. Which is it? Talk about circular reasoning.]

….

If an atheist [Bruce Gerencser] ever says to you that he knows more than you, referring to the Bible, or that he once had the Holy Spirit, it just shows how deluded they are and continues to be. Unless they humble themselves in the sight of Christ, they will continue to walk in darkness straight to the multiple pathways to hell. Atheists are one of the proudest people you will ever encounter. The reason for this is that they went through a traumatic situation that got them so bitter towards God that all they can do is curse at Him and His followers. People like that make me feel sorry for them. Only prayer can break their hardness.

— Spaniard VII, Spiritual Minefield, Why Do Some People Abandon Their Faith In Christ?, September 29, 2020

Marques Jeffries left the following comment on Spaniard VIII’s post:

Amen, brother! Bruce [Gerencser], Andrea, John Arthur, and the rest of their Atheist friends’ angry words against God are just a cover-up for either a panful event from their past, or because there is a sin that they are committing that they don’t want to let go of. [Yes, I love fucking space aliens.]

The Holy Spirit allows us to see through all of their angry words, and know that it is Satan manipulating them to behave in this manner. The God that they reject is the only One who can supply the pure love that every person longs for.

Like you said, all we can do is witness to them, and pray that they will have a life experience that softens their heart to enable the Holy Spirit to come in and do a loving work within them…But salvation is a choice that God leaves to each of us.

Personally, accepting Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to me. (Marques needs to get out more often.]

Spaniard VIII replied:

Their hatred is pure evidence that they are full of bitterness towards Jesus Christ. Bruce has been reblogging me because I have been saying the truth [No, I have been quoting you to show that you are a Liar for Jesus®.], regarding atheism and it hurts him and the rest his blind followers, sadly. [Yes, your words have really, really, really hurt me.] The more they talk about me, the more blessed I feel. When you get slandered for the sake of Christ by these atheists, you will have treasure in heaven. I welcome it. Win-win for me.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce, Have You Ever Had a Supernatural Experience?

atheism

A commenter on this blog, T34, recently asked the following question on the post titled, Is Christianity a Blood Cult?

I read a few of the articles [on this blog] and none of the titles seem to answer my question. Please know I [am]not an evangelist. I honestly am searching for answers. I want to know if Bruce has had any supernatural or spiritual (not religious) experiences or relationship with God or another? I would like to understand more why Bruce chose to be an outright atheist as opposed to just non-religious or agnostic. And if he has had any supernatural or spiritual experiences I’d like to know what they were and what he thinks of them now.

Polly and I typically listen to The Atheist Experience on Sunday nights before we go to bed. This week, Matt Dillahunty, one the hosts, mentioned the difficulty in defining the word “spiritual” or “spirituality.” Ask a hundred people to define these words and you will get 101 different answers. “Spiritual” to a Baptist is very different from the way a Catholic, Buddhist, Pagan, or humanist might define the word. T34 equates “spiritual” with “supernatural,” so I will proceed using that definition, understanding that there is no absolute textbook definition for these words. For example, a Charismatic Christian considers speaking in tongues to be “supernatural” experience. An Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian, however, considers speaking in tongues a tool used by Satan to lead people astray.

Before I answer T34’s question, I do want to answer one claim that she makes: she suggests that supernatural and spiritual experiences are not religious. I don’t believe that at all. It is religion, in all its shapes and forms — organized or not — that gives life to supernatural and spiritual claims. Without religion, I doubt humans would have much need for such experiences.

My editor pointed out that non-religious people can and do have paranormal experiences. Are paranormal experiences such as “seeing” ghosts supernatural in nature? Maybe, but I suspect that if naturalism and science had a stronger hold on our thinking, thoughts of ghosts would likely fade away. I’m deliberately painting with a BWAPB — Bruce’s Wide Ass Paint Brush. I recognize that there could be some experiences that might not fit in the box I have constructed in this post. Unlikely, but possible.

I had a church piano player in Somerset who was certain that her dead lover (long story) appeared next to her when she played the piano. I never saw him, but she swore he was right there cheering her on as she played “Victory in Jesus.” Could her story be true? Sure, but not in the way some people may think it is. Her story is true in the sense that she “thinks” it is. In her mind, this man is very real, even though his dead body is planted in the nearby cemetery. Thus such things can be “true” without actually being factually and rationally true.

I was part of the Christian church for 50 years. While I spent my preschool years in Lutheran and Episcopal churches, once I started first grade in 1963, I attended Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Southern Baptist, and garden variety Evangelical churches. I spent 25 years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan, pastoring my last church in 2003.

When I discuss the spiritual/supernatural experiences I have experienced in my life, these events must be understood in light of the sects I was raised in, what my pastors taught me, what I learned in Bible college, and my personal learning and observations as a Christian and as an Evangelical pastor. My understanding of what is spiritual/supernatural is socially, culturally, tribally, and environmentally conditioned. A Southern Baptist church can be located on the northwest corner of Main and High in Anywhere, Ohio and a Pentecostal church located on the southeast corner of Main and High in the same town. Both preach Jesus as the virgin-born son of God, who came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross for our sins. Both preach that all of us are sinners in need of salvation, that one must be born again to inherit the Kingdom of God. And both believe Satan is real, Hell is sure, and Donald Trump is the great white hope. Yet, when it comes to “experiencing” God, these churches wildly diverge from one another. The Pentecostals consider the Baptists dead and lifeless, lacking Holy Ghost power, while the Baptists consider their Pentecostal neighbors to be way too emotional, to have a screw loose. Both churches “experience” God in their own way, following in the footsteps of their parents, grandparents, and older saints who have come before them.

As a man who pastored several churches in desperate need of change, I heard on more than a few occasions church leaders and congregants say, when confronted with doing something new or different, “That’s not the way we do it!” Behaviors become deeply ingrained among Christian church members. Our forefathers did it this way, we do it this way, and we expect our children and grandchildren will do the same. A popular song in many Evangelical churches is the hymn, “I Shall Not be Moved.” The chorus says:

I shall not be, I shall not be moved.
I shall not be, I shall not be moved;
like a tree planted by the water,
I shall not be moved.

That chorus pretty well explains most churches. Whatever their beliefs and practices are, they “shall not be moved.” So it is when determining what are real “spiritual” or “supernatural” experiences.

supernatural

As a Baptist, I believed the moment I was saved/born-again, that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, came into my “heart” and lived inside of me, teaching me everything that pertains to life and godliness. It was the Holy Spirit who was my teacher and guide. It was the Holy Spirit who taught me the “truth.” It was the Holy Spirit who convicted me of sin. It was the Holy Spirit (God) who heard and answered my prayers. It was the Holy Spirit who directed every aspect of my life.

As a pastor, I typically preached a minimum of 4 sermons a week. I spent several full days a week — typically 20 hours a week — reading and studying the Biblical text, commentaries, and other theological tomes. As I put my sermons together, I sought God’s help to construct them in such a way that people would hear and understand what I had to say. Daily, I asked God to fill me with his presence and power, especially when I entered the pulpit to preach. I always spent time confessing my sins before preaching, believing it was vitally important for me to “right” with God before I stood before my church and said, “thus saith the Lord.”

I expected the Holy Spirit to take my words and use them to work supernaturally among those under the sound of my voice. I believed that it was God alone who could save sinners, convict believers of their sin, or bring “revival” to our church. I saw myself as helpless — without me, ye can do nothing, the Bible says — without the supernatural indwelling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

As a committed Christian, I was a frequent pray-er. I prayed for all sorts of things, from the trivial to things beyond human ability and comprehension. I believed that with God all things were possible. In the moment, I believed that God, through the work of the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, was working supernaturally in my life, that of my family, and of my church. My whole life was a “spiritual” experience, of sorts. God was always with me, no matter where I went, what I said, or what I did, so how could it have been otherwise?

In November 2008, God, the Holy Spirit, along with all of his baggage, was expelled from my life. For the past twelve years, I have taken the broom of reason, science, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry and swept the Christian God from every corner of my mind. While I wish I could say that that my mind is swept clean of God, dust-devils remain, lurking in the deep corners and crevasses of my mind. All I know to do is keep sweeping until I can no longer see “God” lurking in the shadows.

T34 wants to know how I now view the “spiritual” and “supernatural” experiences from my past life as a Christian and Evangelical pastor. As an atheist, I know that these experiences were not, in any way, connected to God. I have concluded that the Christian God is a myth, that he/she/it is of human origin. If there is no God, then how do I “explain” the God moments I experienced in my life? Does Bruce, the atheist, have an explanation for what “God” did in his life for almost 50 years?

Sure. The answer to this question is really not that difficult. I spent decades being indoctrinated by my parents, pastors, and professors in what they deemed was the “faith once delivered to the saints.” This indoctrination guaranteed the trajectory of my life, from a little redheaded boy who said he wanted to be a preacher when he grew up — not a baseball player, policeman, or trash truck driver, but a preacher — to a Bible college-trained man of God who pastored seven churches over 25 years in the ministry. I couldn’t have been anything other than a pastor.

And so it is with the “spiritual” and “supernatural” experiences I had in my life. My parents, churches, pastors, and professors modeled certain beliefs and practices to me. I “experienced” God the very same way these people did. Social and tribal conditioning determined how I would “experience” God, not God himself. He doesn’t exist, remember?

I sincerely believed that, at the time, God was speaking to me, God was leading me, and God was supernaturally working in and through my life. But just because I believed these things to be true, doesn’t mean they were. A better understanding of science has forced me to see that my past life was built upon a lie, a well-intended con. This is tough for me to admit. In doing so, I am admitting that much of my life was a waste of time. Sure, I did a lot of good for other people, but the “spiritual” and “supernatural” stuff? Nonsense. Nothing, but nonsense. And saying this, even today, is hard for me to do. It’s difficult and painful for me to admit that I wasted so much of my life in the pursuit of something that does not exist.

T34 asked why I “chose to be an outright atheist as opposed to just non-religious or agnostic.” I am not sure what an “outright” atheist is as opposed to an atheist. Remembering what I said about the connection between religion and the “spiritual” and “supernatural,” isn’t someone who is non-religious an atheist or an agnostic? While such people may not carry such labels, aren’t non-religious people those who do not believe in deities? If someone believes in a God of some sort, be it a personal deity or some sort of divine energy, they can’t properly, from my perspective, be considered non-religious.

Granted, there is a difference between people who are non-religious and people who are indifferent towards religion. An increasing number of Americans are indifferent towards religion. They simply don’t give a shit about religion, be it organized or not. I suspect that many of these NONES will eventually become agnostics and/or atheists.

I label myself this way:

I am agnostic on the God question. I am convinced that the extant deities are no gods at all; that the Abrahamic God is a human construct. That said, I cannot know for certain whether, in the future, a deity might make itself known to us. I consider the probability of this happening to be .00000000000000000000001. Thus, I live my day-to-day life as an atheist — as if no deity exists. I see no evidence for the existence of any God, be it Jehovah, Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, or a cast of thousands of other gods. The only time I “think” about God is when I am writing for this blog. Outside of my writing, I live a God-free life, as do my wife, dog, and cat.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser